Cervical Strain VA Rating

If you suffer from chronic neck pain caused by a service-connected condition or injury, you may be eligible for VA disability benefits. Cervical strains or neck pain can involve stiffness, reduced range of motion, inflammation, and strains or spasms that impede daily activities. While it may respond to treatment and medication, that doesn’t mean it will go away entirely.

Key Takeaways
  • Veterans may qualify for disability compensation for a cervical strain due to service-connected conditions, including muscle strains, worn joints, and injuries like whiplash.
  • The VA rates neck pain based on the General Rating Formula for Diseases and Injuries of the Spine, with ratings varying from 10 to 100 percent, depending on mobility and ankylosis.
  • Veterans with neck pain less than 100 percent may qualify for Total Disability Individual Unemployability benefits, allowing for full compensation if unable to work due to the condition.
  • Neck pain can also be considered a secondary service connection, potentially increasing the VA rating for the primary disability.

There are many ways a service member may develop neck pain due to their military service. Vehicular accidents, unexpected injuries, and some medical conditions can cause neck pain. Fortunately, you can request a neck pain VA rating and potentially qualify for disability compensation. Veterans Guide explains how service members develop neck pain and the VA rating process.

Neck Pain in Veterans

Neck pain, medically known as cervicalgia, involves the cervical spine, which extends from the head to the top of the back. It’s a common symptom of many injuries and medical conditions. Your neck pain may be axial, where you feel it primarily in your neck, or radicular, when it extends into other areas, including the shoulders and arms. Sometimes, neck pain lasts just a few days or weeks. More severe cases may be chronic.

If you suffer from neck pain, you may experience ongoing aches or burning. Some people feel a shooting pain that extends from their neck to their shoulders. Other symptoms can include difficulty turning your neck, numbness, or a headache.

Several different causes of neck pain can arise from your military service. They include the following:

  • Muscle strains: Certain activities may put extended pressure on your neck muscles, leading to strains. Carrying heavy loads for long periods, hunching over a computer, and other actions may impact neck muscles.
  • Worn joints: Neck pain worsens over time as the neck joints experience wear and tear. Worn joints can cause bone spurs, which increase neck pain.
  • Injuries: Any injury that impacts the neck, head, or spinal area can result in neck pain. Whiplash is a common injury known to cause severe neck pain. Many car accident victims suffer from such injuries.
  • Compressed nerves: A herniated disk or bone spur can compress the spinal nerves, causing severe neck pain. Herniated disks may develop suddenly from improper movement or twisting. They also occur over time with repetitive motion or aging. 
  • Arthritis: Arthritis occurs when there is too much wear and tear on the joints, damaging the cartilage. It may take time to develop or appear immediately following a joint injury or infection.
  • Radiculopathy: Pinched nerves in the spine and neck region occur when there is compression or irritation, known as radiculopathy. It can occur following an accident, bone spur, or herniated disc.
  • Spinal stenosis: Wear and tear of the joints in the neck and spinal region can lead to spinal stenosis, which causes neck pain, weakness, and numbness.

How Does the VA Rate a Cervical Strain?

The VA uses the General Rating Formula for Diseases and Injuries of the Spine to rate neck pain. The ratings vary from 10 to 100 percent, depending on the range of forward movement in your neck. A major determining factor is whether the condition involves ankylosis, which is limited mobility in the spine. If you have “favorable” ankylosis, your spine is straight. If you have “unfavorable” ankylosis, your spine is stuck in a bent position.

Here are the neck pain VA ratings and associated criteria for qualifying for benefits:

  • 100 percent rating: Unfavorable ankylosis of the entire spine
  • 50 percent rating: Unfavorable ankylosis of the entire thoracolumbar spine
  • 40 percent rating: Forward flexion of the thoracolumbar spine of 30 degrees or less, unfavorable ankylosis of the entire cervical spine, or favorable ankylosis of the entire thoracolumbar spine
  • 30 percent rating: Forward flexion of the neck less than 15 degrees or favorable ankylosis of the complete cervical spine
  • 20 percent rating: Forward thoracolumbar spine flexion must be between 30 and 60 degrees or forward neck flexion between 15 and 30 degrees. The combined range of motion of the thoracolumbar spine must be less than 120 degrees, or the combined range of motion of the neck must be below 170 degrees. Other qualifying criteria include muscle spasms that result in an abnormal gait or spinal contour, like scoliosis or reversed lordosis.
  • 10 percent rating: Forward neck flexion must be between 30 and 40 degrees or combined cervical spine range of motion between 170 and 335 degrees. Other criteria include muscle spasm or localized tenderness that doesn’t impact your gait or spinal contour or a vertebral body fracture with a 50 percent loss in height.

Want to Increase Your VA Rating?

What Is the Average VA Disability Rating for Neck Pain?

Your rating will depend on the extent of your injury and whether it is connected to your military service. There is no standard average—your rating depends on whether you can demonstrate the criteria required for a disabling neck pain condition.

Neck Pain and TDIU

While it’s possible to obtain a 100 percent disability rating for neck pain, not everyone will qualify. If your neck pain VA rating is less than 100 percent, you can seek Total Disability Individual Unemployability benefits, or TDIU. These benefits allow you to receive full compensation if you cannot work because of your condition. 

To be eligible for TDIU, you must have one disability rated at least 60 percent or multiple disabilities with a combined rating of 70 percent, with one condition rated at least 40 percent disabling. 

You can apply for TDIU during the initial VA disability claim process or later if your condition worsens. You must also demonstrate that your condition, whether it’s neck pain or another disability, prevents you from working.

Neck Pain Secondary Service Connection

A secondary service condition is a disability that arises from another disease or injury obtained during a veteran’s service. It may also include pre-existing disabilities or injuries that worsened during the veteran’s time in service. 

If your neck pain is secondary to another condition, you may be able to increase your VA rating for the primary disability. Some examples of conditions commonly related to neck pain include lower back degeneration, radiculopathy, post-traumatic stress disorder, or migraines.

The VA uses a special table of combined ratings for secondary disabilities to assign your score. The result of your ratings is rounded to the nearest 10 percent to reach a final rating.

How To Obtain VA Disability for Neck Pain

If you suffer from neck pain due to a service-connected injury or disability, you can submit a claim to the VA claim for disability benefits. There are three ways to file a claim:

  1. File an online application via the VA’s website.
  2. Download VA Form 21-526EZ, fill it out, and submit it to the Department of Veterans Affairs via mail.
  3. Submit your application at a local VA regional office.

When submitting a VA disability claim, you must provide evidence documenting your disability and associating it with your time in service. Your documentation can include:

  • VA medical, hospital, or private medical doctor’s records relating to your condition
  • Statements from family, friends, colleagues, or others about your condition and how it worsened

You may also provide copies of your military personnel records, particularly those documenting specific incidents during your time on duty that resulted in your disability.

C&P Exam for Neck Pain

Sometimes, the VA may ask you to undergo a compensation and pension, or C & P, exam to assess the severity of your neck pain. A C&P exam includes a physical examination and questions about the pain you experience. It’s important to be forthright with the doctor concerning your condition and describe all your symptoms so they can properly evaluate you.

Increasing Your VA Disability Rating for Neck Pain

If you already have a VA disability rating for neck pain but are experiencing worsening symptoms, you can file for an increase if it’s been over a year since your initial rating. You can complete the process via the same three channels: online, via mail, or at your local VA regional office.

When submitting your new claim, include any new medical evidence and documentation indicating your disability has worsened. If the VA requests one, you may need to undergo a new C&P exam.

Appealing a Denied VA Disability Claim

The VA may deny your disability claim for multiple reasons. Your claim may not have enough supporting evidence to tie your neck pain to your time in service, or the evidence you provided may not meet the criteria for a VA disability rating. However, that doesn’t mean all is lost. You can appeal their decision for up to one year after you receive the results.

There are three ways to appeal a decision—a supplemental claim, a higher-level review, or a board appeal. Depending on the appeal type, you may need to submit additional evidence documenting your service-connected neck pain or undergo another C&P exam.

Get Help with Your Neck Pain VA Rating

Applying for VA benefits or appealing a denied claim can be complex, especially if you are new to the process. Veterans Guide specializes in assisting servicemembers with denied benefits or lower-than-expected ratings. Contact us today to learn more about how we can help you get the rating and compensation you deserve.

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